What does it take to be Triathlons Olympic Champion?

Written by Neil Flanagan (Dubai Flanners)
Sadly, the Olympic flame has now been extinguished, and we are left to reflect on what has been a phenomenal Olympic Games 2012.
Of course, the highlight for me was the Triathlon, with Great British Brownlee brothers, Alistair and Jonny claiming Gold and Bronze (even with a 15 second penalty) respectively. So what is it that sets the Brownlee boys above  the rest? – a) are they genetically superior?, b) do they simply train harder than everyone else?, or is it c) their winning mentality and quest to leave no stone unturned?
Lets explore these briefly in turn…
a) Triathlon is a bit of a strange sport – swim/bike/run – there’s not a lot of natural synergy between them – you could argue, for example that Michael Phelps was born to swim, or Lance Armstrong was born to ride a bike, or Haile Gebrselassie was born to run, but given their vastly different physical attributes, how can you argue that somebody was born to swim, bike, AND run?.  Undoubtedly the brothers have some natural talent, but we all know some talented people who aren’t Olympic Gold Medalists, right?.  Two of my favorite sayings in sport:
  1. “Hard work beats talent when talent refuses to work hard”
  2. “Only in the dictionary does success come before work”
b) Below is a sample of a typical week in the life of the Brownlee boys – given that they currently live and train together, you can imagine some of their sessions get a little bit spicy!
Monday – easy 75 minute run in the morning, followed by running drills with physiotherapist, weights in the gym, 1 hour swim, easy “few” hour bike ride in the afternoon.
Tuesday – hard swim at 7a.m, easy 30 minute jog, easy1 hour spin on the bike, hard track running session in the evening.
Wednesday – long easy intervals in the pool, easy 75 minute jog, 3 hour bike ride in the afternoon.
Thursday – easy swim in the morning, 1 hour run, 2 hour bike ride in the afternoon.
Friday – hard swim in the morning, followed by weights in the gym, 1 hour run and 1.5 hour bike in the afternoon.
Saturday – hard run intervals on grass in the morning, 3-4 hour bike ride in the afternoon, easy 1 hour run in the evening.
Sunday – Long ride and long run (a long ride is 3-4.5 hours, and running volume can be up to 70 miles a week depending on time of year and event scheduling)
c) Given the work schedule above, which is frankly enormous, the boys take rest and recovery very seriously indeed – they will no doubt have all the recovery toys available on the market, and are both reputed to be phenomenal at natures best recovery activity – sleeping! – I could write a whole article on sleep alone, but that’s for another time.  Alistair had an endless pool installed in his back garden (kind of an aquatic treadmill) and actually sleeps in an oxygen tent – Jonny is getting one! – I saw a documentary recently where Jonny fondly recalled falling through ice into a freezing lake in the middle of winter on one of their long rides, and continued to finish off the remaining 2 hours.  I suspect more than a few of their peers might have been on the phone begging for a lift home!
So what is my take away from all this?
Well, it’s quite simple – yes, they may have inherited some good sporting genes from their parents, and yes, they may have all the latest gadgets available to help them train and recover – but it’s only when you add that to their incredible work ethic and mental fortitude that you get the complete package that they undoubtedly are.
The frightening thing is that Alistair is 24, Jonny is only 22, neither are yet at their physical peak.  If you want to win Olympic Gold in Triathlon in Rio in 2016, chances are you’re going to have to beat the Brownlee boys to do so…good luck with that!!
Neil Flanagan is a triathlete with serious talent having completed Ironman Hawaii in 2011 and been selected for Team Great Britain in the 2012 world triathlon championships in Auckland New Zealand. Neil lives and trains in Dubai. You can keep up to date with Neils training and commentary on the sport of triathlon on his blog Dubai Flanners and follow him on TWITTER,
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